Nicole Kelley, 25, of Laurel, said she was eating in the food court with her three young children when she heard eight or nine "bangs." She didn't know what the noise was, but grabbed her kids and ran, leaving her coat behind. She said many others did too, and the food court was strewn with coats, strollers and food.

"I heard the shots and it was just a stampede. ...There were people running everywhere," said Antone Bishop, 19, who was shopping with his friend, Jared Malcolm,19, at the Finish Line, a shoe store. "People were running out the of store ... people didn't know what to do. People were crying. Everyone was just in a panic."

After the shots, Bishop said, he went to the back of the store, where about 20 people hid in a storage area for about 20 to 30 minutes until police came.

"At first I was in shock, and then I was calm and level-headed," Malcom said. "I was not overreacting because I did not see it."

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Trevor Piedmont, 17, who was reading a philosophy book inside Marbles: The Brain Store when the shooting occurred, said employees rushed customers into a back room.

There was a computer and phone in the room, and Piedmont said he logged onto Facebook to let everyone know he was safe. Waiting in the room was "kind of boring," but when he emerged and saw armed police officers, he said the reality of the incident began to sink in.

Nesreen El Sayad, who owns Sweet Treat, said she heard the shots and ran to a storage area to hide and wait for her husband to come get her. "I can't stay here. It is horrible. I just ran. I didn't see anything," said a visibly upset El Sayad.

Mohammed Zaidi, an 18-year-old employee of JC Penney, said customers ducked for cover after hearing gunshots. The store management then gathered people in the juniors department.

"Some people were crying and really scared," Zaidi said. "I was really surprised, especially here. You don't really see that here."

Hiding in the back of a first-floor card shop, Lena Kennedy texted her husband, Ian: "There's a shooter. We're in a back room. Don't come."

She had taken their 2-year-old daughter, Daphne, to the mall to buy a birthday present for another child. Ian Kennedy and their 4-year-old daughter, Penelope, had planned to meet up with them later.

"They were words that were divorced from meaning, like I couldn't comprehend them," said Ian Kennedy of his wife's message.

Later, Lena Kennedy told him that they had been in a card store on the first floor when people came in and said there was a shooter. Lena told him later that she grabbed Daphne from the stroller, abandoning it along with her purse, their coats and other belongings, and ran to hide.

Police eventually came in and told them it was OK to leave, and as they walked outside, a woman in a car, a stranger, picked them up and took them to a nearby restaurant. Eggspectatons. There, Lena called Ian, and he picked them up.

Lena "ran into the car ... crying a little," Ian Kennedy said. "I put on some music from the "Frozen" soundtrack for the girls."

With mass shootings becoming more commonplace in the United States, Kennedy, a Columbia resident, said he still felt such an event could never happen there.

"At least it wasn't worse," he said. "It's sad that these days we see, 'Oh, three people are dead,' and it could have been worse.'"

The stroller and his wife and daughter's other belongings were still in the mall Saturday afternoon, and they were unsure when they would be able to retrieve them.

Jade Patterson, the mother of 14-year-old Brian Alberca, was momentarily frantic when she heard about the shooting because she knew her son had walked from home to the mall early in the morning to buy shoes. He was at a friend's house instead, and the two eventually found one another. But Patterson said the mall on Saturday is a common hangout for teenagers.

"There is always kids here on Saturday. ... This is their hangout day," Patterson said. "You definitely wouldn't expect that to happen here, not at Columbia. This is Howard County."